NORTH SMITHFIELD – Town officials plan to apply to have a new site added to the National Register of Historic Places, with funding secured this week to apply for a grant to start the process.
The Town Council approved $2,500 for the project, money that the town’s Historic Commission and Heritage Association hope will be used toward a matching grant to cover consultation costs.
It will be the first time North Smithfield applies to have a property added to the list since 1996, when Roberta Randall, a member of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission who lives in North Smithfield, acquired the designation for her property, the Tyler Mowry House on Sayles Hill Road.
Considered the official list of the historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation in the United States, the National Register offers some protections to the owners of items deemed valuable. Walter Nebiker submitted nominations for the only other North Smithfield properties on the register in the 1970s and 1980s during his time working for the RIHPC.
Currently, the National Register lists both individual sites and districts in the town of North Smithfield, including the villages of Slatersville, Forestdale and Union Village, the Blackstone Canal and the Smithfield Road Historic District, as well as the Todd’s Farm, Peleg Arnold, William Mowry and Tyler Mowry Houses.
Four other properties have been deemed eligible by the State Historic Preservation Commission including the Crookfall Brook Factory and Archeological Site, and two bridges on Great Road currently slated for replacement by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation: Branch River Bridge No. 108 and Union Village Railroad Bridge No. 107.
The North Smithfield Heritage Association has also identified more sites that could be eligible including the Blunders, Mammoth Mill, the Stephen Smith House and the Grange Road Historic District.
But it is unclear as of yet which of North Smithfield’s many sites historic sites could move forward this year.
Heritage Association President Richard Keene noted that his group will provide input to the town’s Historic District Commission as they create a list of prioritized projects.
“We’re thrilled to see this process resume in 2021,” said Keene in reaction to the town funding allocated Tuesday night. “We hope the town continues this funding each year to enable the Historic District Commission to nominate additional town properties to the register.”
HDC Chairman Jeffrey Harris said that his board will deliberate which of the town’s sites should be added to the list, and make a final decision based owner’s interest and willingness. Rules change year to year, but the designation comes with protection against federal mandates as well as tax incentives for qualifying private owners.
The commission will also apply for a Certified Local Government grant through the state preservation commission ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, money that must be matched with local funding.
Harris went low, asking the town for only $2,500, but said he was pleased and surprised to see any funding granted during such a difficult budget year.
“I didn’t want to overreach,” he said.
Once grant funding is also secured, the commission will bring in an expert from the Society of Archeological Historians to gather information on the property and fill out applications.
“They would be a consultant for this,” Harris said. “It’s a big process for the application.”
National, state and local authorities will review the final document and issue a decision.
It’s all part of an ongoing effort by both the HDC and the NSHC to protect the town’s rich history, and make sure significant sites stay in good care.
Harris noted that in recent years, the commission worked with local, state and federal officials to ensure that changes to the Stone Arch Bridge in Slatersville maintained its historic character.
“We all coordinated to make the Stone Arch Bridge what it is today,” Harris said. “I’m very happy with that.”
Regardless of which property is ultimately chosen, Harris said he’s excited to move forward with the commission’s application.
“It’s valuable property that we’re trying to give recognition to,” he said.
“Listing in the National Register identifies a property or place as being worthy of preservation,” said Keene. “It prevents demolition of a property or place if Federal Funds are being used for the project but most importantly, listing helps qualify buildings and places for preservation benefits and incentives.”
“Of course we hope to nominate many others for listing,” he added.